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By Dr. Peter Tarlow

The most recent successful terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California raises not only a number of security issues but also issues on the media and public policy.  The results of this debate may have a great impact on the tourism and travel industries.

There is no doubt that these attacks casued media frenzy.  Major news outlets in the US and Europe dedicated whole days to the attack. In fact, they created a sense of national or international panic.  If terrorists seek publicity and provoke public fear, then we are forced to ask the question: have the media become unwilling allies of the terrorists?  Certainly no one would question that this attack, at least in the US, was a major news story.  The question becomes: how do the media do their job without reinforcing the terrorist narrative and without becoming its own news story?  Besides the tragic loss of life, this most recent terrorist attack has raised a number of public policy questions.  Some of the questions pertain to the US and other questions may have international significance and impact tourism for years to come.  Among these are:

1)   In the US should there be additional gun control and if so, how much and what type of gun control?

2)   Should the US remain an open society or should it exclude certain groups as visitors and/or immigrants?

3)   Has the US (and Europe) gone so far with political correctness that people are now afraid to report questionable actions to the authorities? Thus, security officials and tourism security official have almost become “hostages” to a false political narrative.  In other words has liberalism sown the seeds of its own destruction?  If so, can industries such as tourism that depend on liberal thought and policies survive?

Found below are a few of the issues revolving around the above points. These are not meant to be extensive but rather thought provoking. They paragraphs below contain few answers but many pose many questions.  They are intended to force tourism officials to ask provocative questions and to make everyone in the tourism industry consider how there are few simple answers to a changing world scene.

Gun Control

The recent Presidential address underscores the fact that the United States is divided on the issue of gun control.  As noted in previous articles the issue stems from the 2nd Amendment to the US constitution. There is no question that the United States is divided on the issue of gun control.  The issue stems from the 2nd Amendment to the US constitution.  The amendment reads as follows: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  In reality no one knows exactly what this sentence means. There are those who believe that its original intention was to permit state governments to maintain militias.  Others have interpreted it to mean that it permits the individual citizen the right to own a gun.  Both interpretations can be debated. What has become clear is that the right to posses a gun speaks to the heart of safety and security

For those who believe that the US needs a national policy of gun control, they point to the fact that guns have one purpose and one purpose alone, the taking of a life, be that the life of an animal or other human being.   The extreme argument goes that no one needs a gun and that allowing free access to guns only permits deranged people to posses the instrument through which they can harm or murder innocent victims.  Gun control advocates also point to the fact that in heated arguments, having easy access to a gun may result in a non-reversible tragedy and that it is much easer to take the life of another human being with a gun rather than with other weapons such as a knife

For those who oppose gun control, they point out that the criminalization of guns will not prevent them but only assure that law-abiding citizens are now helpless. They note that schools, and other gun free zones, are often targeted and wonder if deranged minds or criminals know that schools are open targets. They also note that Paris has some of the strongest gun control laws and that these laws made the victims of the recent Paris massacres helpless.  Gun control opponents note that California’s strict gun control policies accomplished nothing in during the San Bernardino attacks.  They also point to the fact that US cities that have stringent gun control laws such as Chicago, or Washington, DC have a much higher murder rate.   From their perspective the media pick and choose which incidents become newsworthy based on political rather than moral or scientific needs.

The current debate is not about the interpretation of the US II amendment but rather what type of arms should be legal or illegal.  Those pushing for gun control argue that there is no need for private citizens to have assault weapons (it is not clear which guns are not assault weapons) and that people who are on the US no-fly list should be banned from purchasing weapons.  Gun control advocates note that the US has a higher murder rate than many other developed nations and that these murder rates impact not only lives but also the nation’s economic wellbeing. 

Those on the other side of the current argument argue that (1) the no fly list is nothing more than a bureaucratic listing often  containing numerous mistakes and even it even includes government officials who work in security! In fact over 70 people who work for the Department of Homeland Security are currently on the no-fly list.  Often names are placed on the list by mistake or for seemingly no reason at all.  They argue that this is a meaningless gesture that accomplishes nothing.

Entry into the United States

If the gun control argument is both difficult and politically messy the second issue is even harder to solve.  The question is: should the US allow people to enter who may be its enemies and may people be categorized by religion?  Although currently the argument centers on people of the Muslim faith, it could be extended to other races, religions and nationalities.  This argument directly impacts tourism.   It is more complicated then most non-scholar realize. It has also been reported more from an emotional or political perspective than from an accurate perspective.   Here are some things to consider:
(1) politicians have muddied the waters with constitutional issues that have nothing to do with the topic. There are no constitutional protections for non-US citizens regarding entry into the US;
(2) There is a great deal of confusion about Middle Eastern religions. In fact neither Judaism nor Islam is technically a religion but rather both see themselves as “ways of life with a Divine underpinning”. The use of Western  classifications only  works to complicate an already difficult situation and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Middle East.
(3) Although there are no constitutional issues regarding whom the US permits to enter into its territory, there are political, moral, security and business issues.  For example,  good security requires both vetting of those desiring to enter and good intelligence work.  A ban may have grave moral consequences. People may die from persecution,  and the results for tourism may be disastrous,
(4) the US (as do all other nations with the exception of the Dominican Republic) is guilty of prejudice during the years leading do World War II when it banned for reasons of  anti-Semitic prejudice Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi persecution and death.  The memory and guilt of this tragedy and injustice still hangs over all nations. While the comparisons with the current Middle Eastern situation are not exact, they may be close enough to force people to cringe.
5) From a tourism perspective, the challenge to the free flow of visitors is a threat to the industry’s viability. Currently nations do not provide access or lack of access to a visitor based on his or her faith. The only exception to this rule is that some Muslim nations unjustly discriminating  against Jewish tourists no matter what their nationality.  It is interesting to note that Western nations have rarely protested this form of discrimination and the United Nations and the tourism industry have remained silent.  The question then becomes do Western nations want to adopt the discriminatory policies found in some Muslim nations? Tourism depends on visitors and foreign visitors tend to outspend local visitors.  If nations begin to impose travel restriction based on religion or national origin the industry can suffer greatly.

Political Correctness

The final issue that most be confronted is that liberal institutions, such as universities, have created new forms of permitted and not permitted speech.  This twenty-first century Orwellian mind control has now resulted in people being afraid to report suspected incidents and thus rendering the motto: “see something/say something” as meaningless.  How do we try not to use prejudicial speech and yet allow people to aid authorities?  Currently western universities have become centers for prejudice, controlled speech and political intolerance.  There now appears to be a good deal of push back against these “speech and thought control” mechanism.  There is also a boomerang affect.  For example, since President Obama’s newest anti-gun speech gun sales have risen to some 7,500 per day.  How this argument will play out in tourism is yet to be determined, but the interplay between political correctness and the public has already having a great deal of consequences.  

These issues then spawned by the California and Paris attacks are not easy to solve and perhaps go to the heart and soul or western society. How we solve these issues will tell us a great deal about who we are and perhaps determine the future shape of tourism.

About Dr. Peter Tarlow

Dr. Peter Tarlow is the president of Tourism & More Consulting located in College Station, Texas.  His website is and he publishes a monthly newsletter on tourism and tourism security in English, Portuguese and Spanish. He can be reached by email at

Contact: Dr. Peter Tarlow

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